1.         The Sundarbans (Bangladesh) (N 798)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1997

Criteria  (ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 2008-2008)
Total amount approved: USD 75,000
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount granted: USD 32,590 from Switzerland following a Special Appeal by the Sector for External Relations of UNESCO

Previous monitoring missions

December 2007: World Heritage Centre mission; March 2016: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2017

From 22 to 28 March 2016, a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission visited the property, as requested by the Committee in Decision 39 COM 7B.8. On 10 October 2016, the State Party provided a detailed response to the mission report and, on 28 November 2016, submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property. All these reports are available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798/documents. The following information was provided regarding issues previously raised by the Committee:

During a meeting at the World Heritage Centre held on 16 March 2017, the States Parties of Bangladesh and India informed the Director of the World Heritage Centre that they intend to reinforce transboundary cooperation to protect the World Heritage properties of the Sundarbans and the Sundarbans National Park.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The State Party’s decisions not to approve the Orion power plant, not to pursue a second phase of the Rampal power plant and to carry out a SEA for the South-west region of Bangladesh are welcome as they address two key recommendations made by the 2016 Reactive Monitoring mission. It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party not to permit that any large-scale industrial and/or infrastructure developments (including the Rampal power plant) proceed before the SEA has been completed.

It is regrettable that the EIA for the dredging of the Pashur River has not been updated as requested by the Committee. While the State Party states that EIAs for future dredging will consider impacts on the OUV of the property, this does not address the Committee’s concern that these impacts have not been adequately assessed for the currently planned dredging. It is therefore recommended that the Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to ensure that no dredging activities are conducted before the current EIA is revised in accordance with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment.

The information provided on ecological monitoring is welcome. The State Party confirmed the mission’s finding that sea level rise, salt intrusion and a reduction in fresh water flows are posing a threat to the Sundarbans ecosystem. It should be noted that the property, located in the southern part of the Sundarbans Reserved Forest (SRF), is particularly vulnerable to increasing salinity. The mission concluded that without adequate water influx from the Ganges basin, the property’s OUV cannot be adequately protected and maintained in the long term. In that regard, the intention to reinforce transboundary cooperation between the States Parties of Bangladesh and India for Sundarbans properties is noted. 

The mission also concluded that the planned development of Rampal power plant as close as 14 km to the SRF and 65 km to the property, has a high likelihood for downstream impacts on the property arising from air and water pollution, a substantial increase in shipping and dredging, and additional removal of freshwater from an already increasingly saline environment. Furthermore, the project’s EIA did not address impacts on the OUV of the property, nor does it provide convincing evidence that impacts will be mitigated. While the State Party provides a long list of measures taken to limit and mitigate negative impacts on the environment, the concern remains that there is insufficient supporting evidence that these measures would prevent impacts on the property from air emissions, coal ash hazards, and shipping and dredging plans to transport coal to the project site. In light of these concerns and the mission’s conclusions, it is recommended that the Committee request the State Party not to proceed with the Rampal power plant project in its current location and to relocate it to a more suitable location where it would not negatively impact the OUV of the property. Further steps in implementing this project would not be appropriate considering the concerns raised, and the potential impacts on the OUV of the property have not been comprehensively assessed in accordance with IUCN’s World Heritage Advice Note on Environmental Assessment. Further information would be needed to allow prior consideration by the Committee of such large-scale industrial developments in the areas surrounding the property.

The development of the draft NOSCOP and the procurement of additional ships with oil spill collection systems are welcomed. However, it is of concern that the December 2014 oil spill is reported to have been “just an accident” and that the State Party does not discuss the impacts of four other similar incidents that occurred in May 2015, October 2015, March 2016, and January 2017, spilling large quantities of coal in proximity to the property, as well as one case of potash fertilizer. The mission noted that long-term impacts from these spills on the Sundarbans ecosystem cannot be excluded. In addition, the anticipated increase in shipping traffic associated with the development of the Rampal power plant and the proposed expansion of Mongla Port could further exacerbate the risk of shipping incidents. It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to ensure that adequate human and financial resources are provided for the implementation of the NOSCOP once it is adopted, and to provide further information and data on monitoring of the long-term impacts from recent shipping incidents.

Finally, it is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to take urgent measures to fully implement all the recommendations made by the mission. While the mission concluded that the property does not currently meet the requirements for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the mission noted that immediate implementation of the mission recommendations related to the freshwater flows, large-scale developments in the vicinity of the property and integrated management is imperative to prevent the OUV of the property from becoming irreversibly damaged. It is therefore recommended that, in the absence of substantial progress with the implementation of the above, the Committee should consider inscribing the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 42nd session.

Decision Adopted: 41 COM 7B.25

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/17/41.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decision 39 COM 7B.8, adopted at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015),
  3. Welcomes the State Party’s decision not to approve the Orion power plant and Phase II of the Rampal power plant,
  4. Also welcomes the State Party’s decision to carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the South-West region of Bangladesh, including the property, and requests the State Party to ensure that any large-scale industrial and/or infrastructure developments will not be allowed to proceed before the SEA has been completed, and to submit a copy of the SEA to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines, as soon as it is available;
  5. Also welcomes the information provided on ecological monitoring and notes with concern that sea level rise, salt intrusion and reductions in fresh water flows are posing a threat to the Sundarbans’ ecosystem and that the property is particularly vulnerable to impacts from these threats;
  6. Takes note of the critical importance of transboundary cooperation between the States Parties of Bangladesh and India on the World Heritage properties “The Sundarbans” (Bangladesh) and “Sundarbans National Park” (India), further welcomes the efforts made by both States Parties to enhance collaboration, and urges the State Party of Bangladesh to fully implement the recommendations made by the 2016 mission in relation to ensuring adequate freshwater inflows to the property;
  7. Also requests the State Party to make constant efforts to fully implement all the other recommendations made by the 2016 Reactive Monitoring mission;
  8. Welcomes furthermore the development of a draft “National Oil Spill and Chemical Contingency Plan” (NOSCOP), and further requests the State Party to ensure adequate provision of funding and human resources for the implementation of the plan once it is adopted, and to provide further information and data on the monitoring of long-term impacts from recent shipping incidents involving spills of hazardous materials in proximity to the property and requests furthermore the State Party to put in place a management system for shipping to minimize negative impacts on the property, including from associated activities such as dredging;
  9. Reiterates its request to the State Party to undertake the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for any future dredging of the Passur River to include an assessment of impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, as requested by the Committee;
  10. Also takes note of the mission’s concerns about the likely environmental impacts of the Rampal coal-fired power plant on the property arising from air and water pollution, a substantial increase in shipping and dredging, and additional removal of freshwater from an already increasingly saline environment and requests furthermore the State Party to ensure that these impacts are comprehensively assessed as part of the SEA and adequate technological measures are put in place to mitigate these impacts and to put in place adequate measures to mitigate these impacts, in order to avoid damage to the OUV of the property;
  11. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by December 2018, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 43rd session in 2019.